Norwich Catholic Charities food bank offers more than just groceries
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Jun. 3, 2013
Bagging groceries may seem like a mundane task, but a few pairs of hands that could accomplish that task would be a godsend for Catholic Charities and its low-income clients. The Catholic Charities food pantry at 331 Main St., in Norwich, offers food assistance to families based on an evaluation of need through an intake process. While the offices are open five days a week, the current staff is only able to open the pantry for regular hours on Wednesday afternoons.
“We’re looking to maintain and expand our hours,” said Sylvia Laudette, program manager for Catholic Charities. “My goal is to eventually have volunteers run our food pantry.” More volunteers would free up staff to conduct the intake process for new clients, making it easier for families to get groceries when they need them, she said. More volunteers might even make it possible to open the pantry during additional day or evening hours to better serve working people, she said.
People who seek out help from Catholic Charities typically need more than just groceries, said Emergency Services Coordinator Faith Chatterton. “If they’re coming in because of food issues, there are other things going on, too,” she said. Additional problems might include unemployment, lack of money for prescription drugs or heating fuel, or mental health issues.
Barbara Gomes came to the center as a client when she returned to the area after her marriage broke up. In need of food as well as counseling, she found that Catholic Charities helped her in the interim before she could receive food stamps. “I didn’t have my own address. I was considered homeless,” she said. “They’re more than generous when they give out the food.”
Gomes said that the agency has also helped tide her over rough financial times with fuel assistance and referrals to other resources. “They took a lot of stress off and pointed me in the right direction,” she said. “I never leave there feeling sorrow.” She said Catholic Charities has helped her “mentally, financially, even spiritually.”
Chatterton said that Catholic Charities is “non-denominational and free for all. You don’t have to be Catholic to work here, volunteer here or receive assistance here.” The agency aims to help meet the basic human needs of its clients for food, shelter, and clothing by providing information, referrals and financial assistance when necessary. Among the other services offered by Catholic Charities are mental health counseling, adoption and pregnancy services, teen mentoring and family life education.
The agency, which operates under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Norwich, is often confused with another diocesan ministry, the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen. The two ministries are separate, and tend to serve separate populations, said Laudette. Her agency sees more families looking for food assistance, while the soup kitchen tends to serve single people or couples, she said.
The food pantry is stocked weekly with groceries from the Gemma Moran United Way Food Bank in New London. Volunteer Dick Walsh is the Catholic Charities “delivery man,” who travels to the food bank each Tuesday and packs his pickup truck with groceries for the Norwich pantry. Recently retired and seeking a way to give back, he responded to a notice in his parish bulletin seeking help for Catholic Charities.
“It seemed like a pretty good fit for me, to have a regular commitment a couple of hours a week,” Walsh said. “It does make you a little more sensitive to less fortunate people. I like to be able to help where I can, and it’s not hard work.” As the Norwich food pantry’s designated shopper, he said, he had to undergo some brief training on the food bank’s regulations and procedures.
Chatterton said that Catholic Charities would also welcome a computer-literate volunteer who could help with data entry and updates. To learn more about volunteering for Catholic Charities, call the Norwich office at 860-889-8346.